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August, 2003

Surealia 2003 An Up Experience
By Jim Scanlon

Two performances of "Surealia" by the dancers of Oracle In Motion from Dance Theater Seven in Fairfax took place recently in the Veteran's Auditorium at Marin Civic Center. A large crowd of handsome, lively, well dressed men, women, boys and girls of all ages, many carrying bouquets of flowers, hustled to, and then crowded into, the auditorium, obviously expecting an "up" experience. And so it was.

David Roxander-sick and tired of showcasing his student dancers in annual presentations of "The Nutcracker," where his young students appeared either as toy soldiers or rats-he, his wife, his mom and other choreographers with Oracle in Motion (not a mobile phone company) under perhaps the influence of Cirque de Soleil, concocted over a period of a year or so, a dance spectacular called "Surealia" which has evolved into something a little different some years, a lot different other years. This year it was a lot different.

All the students participate in almost all the numbers with the younger students fully integrated into the various acts or episodes, which constantly change. This is definitely NOT your typical "kids" amateur performance. Naturally the older, more experienced performers, on their way to, say, the Houston, the San Jose, the Dallas, the Colorado State Ballet, are the most accomplished and there are always a few graduates returning to add their sparkling luster to the ballet, like Brook Reynolds who eight years ago could be seen daily with her blonde hair shining in the sunlight watering the red geraniums in the window boxes in front of the school on Broadway in Fairfax. If only there had been a Monet or a Cezanne to paint those scenes!

The cast of dancers is very large and extremely lively, so lively that it is difficult to imagine how anyone could possibly managed them. The central character who passes through the various dance numbers is in some years a boy, in other years a girl. Johnny Orr was the little boy in 1996 when the first performance burst into life in the College of Marin Theater and now he is handsome, robust dancer of fifteen years.

Just few years ago a beautiful little girl was the child in transition. This year I recognized her by her high forehead, but now a slender teenager, bounding, leaping, agile and quick, flexing and vibrating like a piece of high quality spring steel. (Human existence and growth are really surreal!) The performers are breathtaking and one gets the impression that they know how good they are because they work hard and are confident.

The costumes tend to be beautiful but simple, and very brightly colored-one suspects Surealia moms behind the scenes. The sets tend to be simple, the lighting complex and ever changing, the music, aside from a few familiar classics, is modern, moody, moving and beautiful. The singing is hauntingly beautiful, but in a language that is incomprehensible: it can mean anything. The acoustical system at the Auditorium was upgraded a year or so ago and what was once merely excellent, is now superb.

This is Surealia. As mentioned above, the dancers are always in motion, with a few dominating for a while, a soloist showcasing a particular sequence for a few seconds and then something else, something new, a new distraction, and so on. This is where the little kids add to the spectacle, to the craziness, by disciplined shuffling, running and jumping in their dazzling costumes.

Some of these scenes are excessively dreamlike and strange with little figures shuffling around, maybe a few with diaphanous wings , or waving antenna protruding from their little heads, like so many fairies, or dwarfs or aliens from outer space! During one scene the little boy, who a while ago was triumphantly carried across the stage like a little Buddha seated in the pose of eternal contemplation, is now asleep with his teddy bear. The weird little dancers lift his arm and take his teddy bear, passing it around and around taking it away and putting it back so that the teddy bear seemed to have a life, a toy "out of body experience" of it's own while the little boy sleeps in the oblivion of his dream world. Really kind of unsettling and creepy.

The illusion of being in a different, strange world is sustained and the pace never slows, giving the audience a chance to come back to the real (yuck!) world. With just a few modifications, maybe just shortened a bit, this show (I hate to call it just a ballet) might easily be a hit in the City, or LA or Paris! No kidding! .

During the performance the kids really do seem to come from some place else, from outer space perhaps, but after the show, they seemed happy to be with their parents and friends and if you saw them walking down the street in Fairfax you would certainly never, ever, suspect who they really are.

 

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